Live From the Longchamps
by Jimmy Dunn
First of all, sorry for the delay in what I hoped would be uninterrupted stories during my stay in Egypt. I had a few small internet problems along the way.
Finally day one back in Cairo, live from the Longchamps. Well, ok, its not day one, for I arrived late yesterday, and I'm not too sure how well the term, "live" applies to me right now, even though I did get some sleep. I had also meant to file a story on Monday from New York, but unfortunately, the the hotel where I stayed had no real internet services.
Anyway, here I am and yes, those of you that I left behind in the called north have every right to be envious. A few days ago, I was trudging through the snow, but this morning I am sitting on the terrace of the Hotel Longchamps in shorts. I think it might even be somewhat unseasonably warm even for Cairo, but certainly there are no complaints.
Getting here was, well, eventful. That's not unusual for me, as I am actually an inept traveler; no real professional at all. I pack relatively haphazardly, with the belief that if I were more careful, I would still forget something anyway. And then I really become a klutz. I lost my primary credit card just before leaving, but luckily my wife found it. I then preceded to drop my passport at JFK, but luckily noticed it, and after arriving, lost my wallet (credit cards and all), but it turned up in the car that brought me from the airport. Lucky? Well, not entirely. I'm pretty sure that my business card case, which I did have at one point, is probably lost for ever, and I picked up the wrong, though same brand and style of suitcase at the terminal. I've gotten that returned to the rightful owner, but for now, I have only the clothes I arrived wearing.
That's only part of the the fun. Now don't try this at home, but I arrived at JFK one half hour prior to my flight's takeoff time, not a good idea particularly on an international flight (I was just pleasantly interrupted by Steven Harvey, an Egyptologist well known for his work at Abydos who just arrived at the Hotel Longchamps himself. (He will be the subject of an interview on his work later this week). Anyway, blame that on a worthless parking garage in Manhattan who kept us waiting for the car that was to take me to JFK. Luckily, I was with the manager of Misr Travel in New York, Samir Khalil, who called ahead to the airport and made things right, so I made the flight.
The moral to this comedy of errors, not unusual when I travel, is that if I can make it to Egypt as many times as I have and come back to tell about it, then anyone can. I even enjoyed the trip, even
though I hate being late and that ride to JFK was more than a little tense.
Now I'm going to rag on EgyptAir a bit. Not long ago, I got to thinking about the fact that we have written any number of articles about budget travel to Egypt, but very little about upscale travel. One of my goals this trip is to gather research for such a story. Hence, I spoke with EgyptAir's New York marketing people about shooting some photos in First Class. It's a grand way to get to Egypt, with seats that completely recline and very good service. The marketing people in New York are savvy, but alas, it seems that most of the remainder of EgyptAir are pretty much complete marketing failures, a fact that is not lost on many travel specialists. In New York, my request was granted and word was sent to the flight crew. Once aboard however, the captain decided not to let me photograph First Class, despite the fact that New York had agreed. This had nothing to do with the people in First Class, as I had no intention of photographing them, and there were only five passengers in that area.
I had actually been led to believe that this would be a relatively full flight, at least in tourist. However, when I walked back from business class I found that there was plenty of room for most people to stretch out, using several seats as beds. Business class was likewise mostly empty. But rather than getting some good PR for an airline that needs some PR, the captain of that Tuesday flight took it upon himself to have none of that. Well, EgyptAir has rolled back some flights in the past, and if it happens again, may I suggest that that this captain not make the cut.
Of course, this is not EgyptAir's only marketing error. Their web site continues to be one of the few airline sites without online booking and I am told that this will not be remedied any time in the near future. In fact, I am also told that some of the information on the site is erroneous, so be very careful if using it to plan a trip.
Now, all that having been said, I will toss EgyptAir a few bones anyway. I like traveling on EgyptAir and always have. The crews are usually pretty friendly, the service is good, and most of all, I enjoy talking to the various travelers who obviously share a common interest with myself. And while EgyptAir may be lacking in their marketing know-how, that is certainly a bonanza for their customers. No one really likes full airplanes, and particularly not on a ten hour flight. While I might like to see EgyptAir do a few things differently, none of the tourist class passengers using three or four seats as beds were complaining. Indeed, neither did I, with my choice of seating.
At any rate, I am back. Prior to leaving, everyone kept asking me whether I was getting excited, but it was really not until stepping on EgyptAir that the excitement began, and really spun up once I walked into the Cairo Airport. It felt good. As some of my readers know, I was very ill at the end of 2002, and is has been too long since the last time I was here. Not that things seem to have changed much. I should note that I was picked up at the airport by Champion Tours, who did a perfect job of getting me through customs and out the door of the airport. It could not have been done better. Of course, at first I slept, and slept some more and may soon do a little more sleeping. But in between, I visited a nice little restaurant I had never noticed before at its location not far from the Hotel Longchamps.
The Don Quichotte has been around for about 25 years, but recently underwent a major face lift, and I am told, new management was installed. Its a delight to talk about establishments such as this. I had woken up about midnight and was hungry and so when I entered the restaurant, I was a little surprised to find it packed. In fact, there was only one table left. The Don Quichotte is rather obviously upscale. Most people, who appear to have been almost exclusively Egyptian, were well dressed for the evening, though a few were more casual. Having not yet retrieved my clothing from the airport, I probably stuck out like a sore thumb.
Nevertheless, I was seated. Prior to ordering, a nice selection of bread and various spreads were bought to the table. That was good and I ordered Beef Fillet Argentina, one of the most expensive items on the menu. Of course, exchange rates being so favorable, that worked out to be about eight dollars! Now I'm not sure exactly how the "Argentina" plays into this, as it was pretty much just a good steak, and being a Texan, I consider myself, as most Texans do, somewhat of an expert on steaks. I guess I was adequately impressed. I had no intention of writing a review when I went in, but after finishing my meal I went and retrieved my camera.
Beyond the food, the atmosphere was very nice, as well as quiet. I would have to say that this is not a typical tourist operation, nor were there many of the younger set. It also has a small, apparently well stocked bar. I had a Jim Beam, one of the few American bourbons readily available in Egypt, to cap off the night and send me once again into dreamland.
So that brings us up to this morning. Interestingly, while I had certainly been made aware of the new restaurant at the Longchamps, I suppose I had forgotten about it and was really pleasantly surprised at how well done it is. I walked into the Longchamps this morning looking for some breakfast while typing today's story, and there was no breakfast where it normally always had been. Only then did I discover the new addition and so a review is now forthcoming. However, several guests have already commented on the excellent food. Well, for now I will sign off. After all, I didn't come to Egypt just to sit about writing all of the time, and exploration is calling, so... until tomorrow.
After finishing the above, I moved off to buy a few clothes until I can retrieve my bag from EgyptAir. That was no hardship, as I already had every intention of buying a few items from Mobacca Cotton, one of my favorite stores in Cairo, anyway. Now there has been much said about the Egyptian exchange rate against the US Dollar. In real terms, after a fee, I believe I received about 616 Egyptian Pounds (L.E.) for a hundred dollar bill. But in reality, just because the exchange rate is high, that does not mean that products are necessarily cheap. Theoretically, merchants can raise prices to compensate for the exchange rate, which of course does occur. However, after visiting Mobacca Cotton, its easy to see that prices have certainly not been equalized. I purchased a nice pair of pants, three pairs of socks and two shirts for a grand total of a little over fifty dollars US. Obviously I will be taking a few more things back.